I’m very glad to see a concerted effort by the NFL and the players’ union to prevent, diagnose and manage concussions. It’s a very serious issue that has never really been seriously addressed.
Several years ago, I represented a late-round draft pick with an NFC team who suffered three concussions in a 12-day period during camp. After the second concussion, I actually had to call the trainer and GM to let them know how serious I though the injury was to my client. The response I got was company line-type stuff. What I felt they were really saying to me was that he was only a late-round pick and needed to be on the field to make the team. I was sensitive to the concussion issue because I suffered four of them during high school and college.
That’s the conundrum for the player -- the pressure to sacrifice the long-term health of your body (and brain) to make a club, participate in camp and practice for your teammates. And most of all, to give it up for the coaches, who will judge you on what you give to them.
When my client went out to practice without his helmet, other players and coaches ridiculed him. To complicate matters, his position coach was never briefed on his condition or his availability for practice. The only people who supported him were the Pro Bowl running back and the quarterback, who told him to be careful and not to practice.
When he suffered the third concussion, I called the high-ranking team executive and asked him to get a specialist. The executive actually told me he thought my client was “faking the injury” and was “just trying to collect some money.” Needless to say, the conversation infuriated me and I sought a second and even a third opinion for my client. All the doctors, including the team specialist, confirmed the severity of the concussion. I’m sure if my client was a high-profile player he would have been treated differently. For the record, the majority of NFL teams I’ve dealt with have shown great care toward players who alert them to a head injury -- and the executive is no longer in the league.
One of the major problems with concussions is that once you get one, you’re susceptible to getting more. When I suffered my second concussion while playing college football, I temporally lost my memory from the previous year. I didn’t know the names or faces of my teammates for 24 hours. I could run and catch, and I could remember my plays, but I was suddenly surrounded by strangers in a strange place. I tried a few more plays until my QB called for the trainer when I started acting strangely in the huddle. My memory slowly returned over the next 24 hours accompanied by some massive headaches. I’m very thankful to my QB for taking action. I was back at practice three days later.
One component that should be added to the NFL plan is to include coaches as part of the strategy to help prevent and identify concussions.
NFL position coaches could act as the first line of defense in spotting concussions. They interact with their players more than any other person on the team. They know the mannerisms and baselines of their players’ skill sets so they can help identify those who are at risk. The problem is that players are their own worst enemy when it comes to concussion and are usually hesitant to tell anyone.
I know since high school I was taught to block and tackle with the crown of my helmet. I was drilled by my coaches to lead with my facemask on blocks. These techniques were passed down from their coaches as well.
Another reason to include coaches in the process of education, prevention and management of concussions is so they can become part of the solution. NFL coaches are some of the toughest and hardest-working people on the planet. The majority of them played college football at smaller schools and were hard-nosed overachievers for their size. As a result, they were the type who most likely received multiple concussions while taking on larger opponents. When they sustained concussions, their generation of coaches called them “bell ringers.” Many of them who now oversee NFL personnel are as tough as nails and have practiced with and played through concussions themselves.
I would recommend that all coaches be trained on identifying concussion symptoms. This would be another way to create more awareness for those who interact most with the players.
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